A popular herb, the bay leaf is plucked from the branches of the Laurus nobilis tree. Generally, the dried leaves are used whole in stews, soups and other dishes. While readily available, many home gardeners and cooks prefer to grow their own herbs. Laurus nobilis grows up to 40 feet tall, however, it is very slow-growing. A small tree, it is often grown in a pot or cultivated in the kitchen garden. Pruning it into a topiary or other decorative shape provides leaves for drying and cooking.
Prune the bay tree into the desired shape using pruning shears. A bay tree is often trimmed into a decorative topiary ball to keep it small. Save the branches for drying.
Bundle and tie the branches together. Hang in a dark, dry place in the garage or shed for two to three weeks. When the leaves are so dry that they crumble, they are ready for cooking. Remove from the branches by cutting the leaf stems with scissors.
Wash the bay leaves and pat dry. Place several paper towels on a baking tray. Spread the bay leaves onto the paper towels and cover with another paper towel. Place in the oven. A gas oven's pilot light or electric oven's interior light provide sufficient heat to dry the herbs. Allow to dry in the oven overnight.
Spread a few bay leaves over a paper towel in the microwave and cook for two to three minutes on high. Test the leaves. If they are still rubbery, microwave 30 seconds at a time until completely dry and crumbling.
Store the dried bay leaves in a lightproof container with a tight-fitting lid.
Keep potted bay laurel trees small by snipping a few leaves at a time with scissors. To preserve the flavour, keep your dried bay leaves in a lightproof, tightly sealed container.
Not all "bay" or "laurel" plants provide bay leaves. Do not pluck leaves from unknown plant varieties -- not all plants are edible.